When it comes to healthy eating and teenagers, I often hear parents lament the fact that they are “going to eat what they want, when they want”. There is a feeling that their current eating behaviors are set into adulthood and as parents we just have to make the meals, stock up on their preferred snacks, and hope for the best. Alas, all is not lost my fellow parents-in-arms. Use this newfound independence to give your teens the tools they need to make healthy eating choices. And there is no better tool to start with then the nutrition label, which they’ll see on every package of food they come across. Yes, it would be best if they always grabbed a piece of fruit for a snack or a salad for lunch, and many do, but reality is they are still going to be faced with the decision to choose something that comes in a box/wrap/bottle, etc.
The below graphic is a short and sweet way to show them quickly the key items of the label. Here are some tips you can offer to them:
- 400 or more calories per serving of a single food is high and 100 calories or less is moderate.
- Teenagers should look for foods high in DV% of potassium, vitamins A & C, iron, and calcium.
- Higher fiber is best, at least 3 grams or more per serving
- Look for less than 3 grams of fat or less for every 100 calories in a serving.
- Keep sodium low, teenagers need 1,500 max for the day
- The less sugar the better. Point out that sometimes foods will have a label as low fat, but then the sugar amount is high.
- The shorter the ingredients list the better, aim for 5 or less.
Once you’ve done your label review with your teen, a great way to incorporate this into everyday life is to make them responsible for some of the grocery shopping. Early teens could take half the grocery list at the store and fill their own cart. They can meet you at checkout so you can do a quick perusal. For older teens that drive, they could be responsible for a quick top off of groceries each week. They’ll love the confidence you show in them that they are “adult enough” to make these healthy choices for themselves and the family!